A newly formed community group is ramping up pressure on city council to turn the former Downtown Eastside police station into an inclusive centre for innovation and the arts.
Thomas Bevan, spokesperson for Citizens for Change at the CopShop, told the Straight by phone that there will be a choir and a light-projection show starting at 7 p.m. tonight (March 14) outside the former police station at 312 Main Street.
It's designed to highlight the group's demand for consultation with area residents over the future of the 100,000-square-foot building at the corner of Main and Hastings streets.
"A public meeting should be held with respect to the development of 312 Main," Bevan said.
The city and the Vancouver Economic Commission have refused the Straight's requests to comment on their plans for the building.
Last month, former Vancouver East NDP MLA Bob Williams told the Straight that he's spearheading a broad effort to create a Vancouver Centre for Social Innovation and Inclusion, which would be modelled on a similar centre in Toronto.
The idea is backed by the Jim Green Foundation, which is named after the former Vision Vancouver councillor.
However, Williams said that the city has spurned the idea and appears ready to turn the 100,000-square-foot city asset over to a U.S. high-tech landlord based in the Silicon Valley.
Bevan is a graduate of UBC's school of community and regional planning and has been a real-estate adviser to the Jim Green Foundation.
However, Bevan emphasized that tonight's event and his work with the community group is not connected to the Jim Green Foundation.
"This is a separate initiative that I've started by myself as a citizen," he said. "The objective of the Citizens for Change at the CopShop is to raise awareness about the process and the lack of community engagement with respect to 312/324 Main [sometimes, both addresses are used] and the city's proposed technology centre being facilitated through the Vancouver Economic Commission."
When asked if this could become an election issue later this year, Bevan replied: "There are a lot of people that are very upset about the plans intended for the Downtown Eastside. There are a lot of different viewpoints. I think this is a very significant asset in the community at a very significant juncture in time. So I could see that this becomes an issue that's representative of the larger plans for the community in general with regards to the LAP [local area planning] and the city's involvement in the community for the future of this neighbourhood."
He then asked why the city isn't inquiring into how artists' talents can be utilized in the former police station, given that this postal code may have the greatest number of artists per capita in the country.
"It hasn't been a basis for conversation, which I think is a real shortcoming," Bevan said. "And that needs to change. What we're doing with the projections is to highlight some of the capacities of the community in a fun and engaging way."
For his master's degree at UBC, Bevan created a video about how real estate can be used for community benefits.
The idea has caught on with Simon Fraser University and Vancity, which were each prepared to invest $1.5 million into the Jim Green Foundation's plans to combine arts groups, First Nations organizations, environmental groups, and businesses in an inclusive centre that reports out to the community.
That idea won't come to fruition if the city chooses instead to turn the former cop shop into a home for high-tech companies.
Bevan said it's a "shame" that the city hasn't reached out to the community "given the symbolism around the building", which was a "flashpoint at the missing-women's inquiry".
"That doesn't seem to be registering in their books for why this space needs to be developed in an inclusive way," he added. "But I can't comment on why they haven't done that because I haven't been involved in those discussions."